‘I am getting nervous. But it’s not because Trump is good. It’s because people are stupid’. So said the (usually) very funny US comedian Bill Maher on TV recently. When I heard him say it, my first thought was: Trump’s going to win. Not because Maher is right, but because I recognised something from the EU referendum campaign, when the great and the good – from metropolitan comedians to overpaid columnists — piled in to suggest that Brexit backers were all dimwitted lemmings, marching zombie-like off a cliff. Pro-EU devotees, some from positions of astonishing privilege, were punching down. It wasn’t a good look, and it harmed their cause.
The parallels between Brexit and Trumpism are largely inaccurate. Brexit has been painted by some American commentators as indicative of a dark tide rising across the Atlantic, but this is far from the truth. Polls indicate that the primary reason for voting ‘Leave’ was national sovereignty and the belief that British laws should not be made in Belgium. Hardly radical. But where Brexit backers and Trump supporters do overlap is in their shared rejection of the establishment, and their belief in democracy as a means to peacefully wrest control back from the elites.
The Donald’s key message — that ordinary people have been shut out and left behind – is an undeniable daily reality for many Americans. The fact that he is not one of those ‘ordinary people’ doesn’t matter: his supporters just like the fact he isn’t a Washington bureaucrat. But the establishment doesn’t like having its views challenged. In Britain, our own elite kicked back against the Leave campaign’s affront to its seniority. And in America, the upper echelons of society are also peering down and dismissing those it sees as revolting commoners.
Half of Trump’s supporters can be put in ‘a basket of deplorables,’ said Hillary, to cheers and applause from her audience. ‘They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it.’ She’s got their number, it seems. But what it also revealed was that while Hillary’s advisers may have spent some time trawling through extremist Alt-Right websites, they haven’t actually bothered to go and meet any moderate, reluctant Trump supporters; the kind who have legitimate grievances and are open to persuasion.
The metropolitan left-wing has refused to acknowledge why such an enormous number of people are going to vote for Trump, an unprincipled amateur who is evidently not fit for office. But look at the alternative—Hillary Clinton, a Washington-soaked, political aristocrat openly batting for Wall Street.
During the EU referendum, all the name-calling and conceit proved to be counter-productive. The Brexiteers won, and now they are having the last laugh at the distraught, teary-eyed Remainers plodding along in denial at futile ‘Marches for Europe‘. But Brexit was a progressive choice favouring more democracy. It carries the clear potential, if executed with care, to improve the lot of both the UK and the rest of Europe. On the other hand, it’s difficult to see what good can possibly come of a Trump presidency. Should Trump triumph, nobody on either side is coming out of this looking good.